So, it’s that time of year again. The Christmas trees are being decorated, the summer heatwaves are threatening yet again (yes, we have a hot Christmas here Australia) and the fireworks are just about ready to fling themselves off the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This past year took us to 17 countries, from the beaches and jungles of Nicaragua to the dilapidated streets of Cuba and onward to summer in Europe. We stood on the edge of sea cliffs in the Faroe Islands and dipped our toes in the Pacific, Mediterranean and countless mountain lakes. We ate our way through tiny plate after tiny plate of tapas in Spain and tasted amazing local wines. We hiked through autumnal forests and the untouched wilderness of Eastern Europe and drove the remote fjords of Iceland and narrow roads of the Scottish Highlands. We slept in hammocks on the slopes of volcanoes, camped on the beach beneath the stars and lived the nomadic life on a converted American school bus. And on the final night of this whirlwind adventure, we witnessed the first snow of the incoming European winter before returning home to Australia.
We’ve ticked off bucket list items and seen places we only ever dreamed of going, and true to form, our travel list has gotten even longer. There are new places we only just discovered and places we fell in love with that are calling us back already.
From the past year, these were the places that captivated us the most.
Our trip down the Rio Indio Natural Reserve was the culmination of a two week journey down Nicaragua’s Rio San Juan, beginning at San Carlos and taking us through rapids, over jagged rocks, past basking caimen and in boats that felt they would crumble at any moment.
After two months in the country we thought we had Nicaragua figured out, but our trip down the river showed us a completely different side to the country – one it seems very few travellers venture far enough to experience.
In the farthest depths of the Rio Indio we were able to bare witness to the completely raw and authentic lives of indigenous communities living in these parts – where electricity is unused, the river is the highway and children become hunters and gatherers from a very young age. We arrived with our own memories of a childhood in a western civilisation and left touched by the free, natural and collectiveness of how they lived, completely cut off in the heart of the Nicaraguan jungle.
Although we’re the first to admit that Cuba was far from being our favourite place this year, there’s no denying that before we became a little jaded by the Caribbean island, we did find a certain charm in the forgotten pockets of Havana. The crumbling streets and vibrant colours made Havana one of the most photogenic places we visited.
Montenegro was a place we ended up quite by accident. Freya’s visa in the Schengen area of Europe was quickly running out and we needed a place to escape to. But after a month in the country, exploring the tiny cobbled streets of Kotor, hiking the breathtaking mountains of Durmitor and Lovcen National Parks, taking luscious swims in the Adriatic and being welcomed with open at arms and a glass of family recipe rakija (the ever-present local liquor) at every guest house we stayed, we are so glad we stumbled upon this stunning little country. Besides that hitchhiking incident we’d rather forget about, Montenegro impressed us every step of the way.
Although never far from controversy, the landscapes to be found on this tiny group of islands in the North Arctic were some of the most unique we have ever witnessed. Waterfalls tumbling into a raging ocean, soaring sea cliffs shrouded in the chatter of nesting puffins and a glassy lake floating between verdant hills and moody skies. It may have rained an awful lot, but when the sun came out, my gosh was it spectacular. The sheep, forever scratching their butts along the road side, also never failed to make us laugh.
It’s fair to say that Iceland’s majestic beauty is one of the worst kept secrets in the world, and after spending two weeks there back in August, we’re pretty glad it’s a secret we’re in on. Although the island is soaring in popularity and was the most expensive place we visited, it’s still easy to find a lonely road in the wilderness among some of nature’s most spine-tinglingly beautiful landscapes. From sweeping fjords and glistening glaciers to black sand beaches and countless waterfalls, Iceland is a place where one trip just isn’t enough, and we can’t wait to go back.
More than any other place we visited this year, it seemed Sarajevo had a story to tell. This city of scars and its people with a dark, pervasive humour made it a fascinating place to explore.
In the throes of autumn, Slovenia was an easy place for us to love. The laid-back atmosphere, welcoming people, delicious eats and long walks through blushing forests and untouched wilderness make it a place we’re eager to return to.
Although completely fantastic, this year wasn’t without its low points. There was a time when the travel fatigue came a knocking and we realised we just had to slow down and one of our most anticipated destinations of the trip just didn’t live up to the hype.
Then there were the inevitable but no less awful health upsets. Being attacked by grass lice that caused the itchy bites from hell and contracting a stomach parasite in Nicaragua that left us bed ridden and writhing in pools of sweat for days were some of the more memorable ones, although we really wish we could forget them.
We learned a lot of lessons about the reality of a life spent living and working on the road and it took us a little time to get into a groove and find a good balance, to dedicate enough time to both having new experiences and writing all about it.
We have had to change the way we travel in order to accommodate the nomadic lifestyle we both aspire to, but hopefully these changes are for the better.
We may be back home in Australia, but that doesn’t mean the travelling stops here. We will be heading to South Africa in early February and have plans for shorter trips to New Zealand, Tasmania and an awesome dive destination as well. Tropical island paradise anyone? We will also be returning to the Faroe Islands for an epic film project (stay tuned!!) and, while plans for our major trip of the year are still falling into place, we’re feeling the wind tugging us, finally, to Central Asia.
Having started this website after throwing around ideas one afternoon in our van in California, we are super proud of the progress ‘The Sandy Feet’ has made this year.
We can’t wait to see where it takes us over the next 12 months and to tell you all about it, and we know there will be plenty of places to get our feet a little sandy along the way.